Friday, October 4, 2013

31 Days: Filling The Third

Today was harder.

It was my day off, and that should be a good thing, but I woke up grumpy and it seems like I stayed that way most of the day.

I'm noticing that I am a lot moodier these days, and I tend to feel tired and lethargic - and grumpy - more often than I used to. I'm sure it has something to do with my age. I'm embracing it and trying to eat better, exercise, take vitamins, etc. But it happens, I suppose, and you gotta go with the flow....

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to post about.

Here's what I noticed today:

I always fill the third.

For the musicians out there, you know what I mean; for the rest of you, here's a brief primer. A regular triad or chord has three notes (hence the name). Harmony is created when two tones sound together. You can add extra notes to your hearts' delight, but typical Western music builds it's foundation upon thirds in harmony. It's called homophony; in choirs, you'll have sopranos, altos, tenors and basses to sing those thirds. Usually the top voice carries the melody and the other parts fill out the tones of the chord to create a supporting harmony.

Here's an example; this is the sort of thing that happens around my house when the kids are home.

That's harmony.

And here's what I noticed, when I was listening to music earlier this afternoon while cooking chicken and rice (that thing that I do well). The All Sons & Daughters playlist was tracking - they are coming here for a Night of Worship tomorrow - and as a duo, their harmony leaves a wide open space for that third tone of the chord. So I cooked and I sang and filled in that empty space. On every song. At the top of my lungs.

The girls arrived home from school, and after dinner Syd said, "Mom...come play!" She meant the piano, and so I pulled out the bench and moused around with some chord changes. I asked what she wanted to hear, and she said, "I want to sing." So she started throwing out song ideas, and here you go:


Every last one of them, except Kari Jobe's "Oh The Blood", which isn't technically a hymn because it's a newer worship song, but the lyrics lean heavily into a hymn style. So it counts.

And Max came up and stood behind me with his guitar, and Shannon leaned against the wall, and for 20 minutes we sang hymns.

I'm not the only one who likes to fill those empty chords; there were three parts on every song, coming from one voice or another.

So I noticed these two things, tonight, connected. One is that two-part harmony always seems incomplete to me. I am compelled to fill that third, every time. It's not always the right thing, but it always fits. It's like a empty silence that needs a sound.

And the second thing is this: What is it with kids in their early 20's finding this huge passion for singing hymns? Those ancient, archaic, long-dead, impossible to sing tunes that we think turn people off of church? I noticed that these kids knew every word, and sang like they believed it.

I'm chewing on that one for a while.

For the record, I love hymns, too. They connect me to history, to the trenches of my faith, to a sense of nostalgia. I find a great deal of meaning in them. What impresses me is that as songs new to people like my kids, they still carry incredible weight and a lot of traction. Fascinating...

After dinner; the end of the chicken and rice.


Lori said...

Interesting observation. I know what you mean about needing the round off the sound of a song. My nephew has a wonderful knack for filling in the empty spaces on the guitar. Interesting your kids love the hymns too. Growing up with them they become a part of you I think, remembering some of the first songs we learned, and they weren't the easy ones either. And you learned them by memory too...
As the grumpy goes.... I'm not sure it's an age thing Beth.. I'm older than you are, and I kind of grump less. And when I do, it's about things that I normally wouldn't grouse about. I'm laughing. Who knows? I blame the moon... for everything. Moon and the weather.

Jayne said...

I would love to be a fly on the wall in your house just for that reason. What a treat to have everyone break into song at the drop of a hat and sound as lovely as you all sounded there in the kitchen. As a soprano, who always carries the melody, I'm always a bit lost when, on certain hymn or anthem, we are the harmony. It's not easy!

Lindsay Durrenberger said...


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check my blog tomorrow morning.